How Do Dogs Grieve Human Death?
As victims in the terrorist attacks are recovered, the painful aftershocks will continue with more memorials and, inevitably, funerals. The nation prays that the pain can somehow, in time, become bearable for the families.
Pets may also show signs of loss and mourning in ways that the family may not recognize. Although somewhat different, they do feel the loss of loved ones. Many have a significant degree of attachment to their owner that leads to anxiety and distress when even short-term separation is thrust upon them, let alone bereavement.
Perhaps, the most famous dog-grieving story of all time is that of Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier owned by a Mr. John Gray of Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr. Gray passed away in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Bobby was one of the conspicuous mourners. As time went by he never forgot his deceased master. Every day for the next 14 years until his own death in 1872, Bobby spent each night lying on his master’s grave come rain, hail and snow. In honor of Bobby’s devotion, a statue and water fountain was erected to his memory in 1873.
Which Dogs Suffer from The Loss of Their Human Owner?
Dogs that have the hyper-attachment syndrome of separation anxiety are likely to be hard hit following their owners’ demise. Cardinal signs of this all-to-common condition, affecting up to 15 percent of dogs in the United States, are as follows:
A score of 5 out of 10 of the above possible signs confirms separation anxiety. Some dogs with separation anxiety are so bonded to one person that if that person leaves the dog with other people in a crowded room he will display full-blown signs of separation anxiety. Such a dog will not take well at all to his owner going away on a trip or, indeed, to the permanent separation caused by death. The dog will panic at first and will eventually become depressed. While we can’t ask a dog how he feels, we can (and do) sometimes see all the visible signs of depression in bereft dogs that we see in a recently bereaved or otherwise depressed person.
Clinical Signs of Mourning in Dogs
Here are some signs that dogs are mourning a human loss:
In people, post-bereavement depression following the death of a loved one usually begins to decrease. Sometimes it lasts 2 months, and sometimes it lasts longer, requiring medical or psychological help. The same is true in dogs. Some will eventually get over their loss and form new bonds whereas others enter a seemingly interminable funk. The latter cases present a therapeutic challenge.
Treatment of Dogs for Bereavement-related Depression
Following acute loss of a closely bonded owner, dogs can suffer the pangs of separation anxiety or depression just as people do. The extent of the suffering is directly proportional to the strength of the bond with the owner and is a function of the dog’s reliance and perceived dependence on that person. Owners who feed into a dog’s intense dependence on them are more likely to have dogs that do not cope well when left alone for any reason. The emotional pain dogs feel on their owners death is an extension of, and extreme, protracted version of separation anxiety. While we all enjoy a close bond with our pets, and children for that matter, it is as well to prepare them to stand on their own four/two feet (respectively) so that they are not adrift should anything happen to us.